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Photo Synthesis

Timothy Leary (1968)

January 21, 2007|Colin Westerbeck

An exhibition of Weingourt's photography can be seen at the ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 Sunset Blvd., through Feb. 15.

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"Headshrinker" was the slang term for a psychotherapist in the 1960s, the decade in which clinical psychologist Timothy Leary became the director of the Harvard psychedelic project. As Gilbert Weingourt's photograph, made in the late '60s, suggests, Leary had taken enough of his own medicine by then to shrink his head as well. Weingourt portrays his subject as a pinhead.

Sent on a stakeout early in his career to sneak a picture of Johnny Cash, Weingourt decided that the life of the paparazzi wasn't for him. He preferred as subjects people he met by chance or got to know in the counterculture in New York and L.A. He saw a fair amount of Leary in both places. This picture was taken shortly before Leary was busted for possession in Laguna Beach and sent to prison in San Luis Obispo. He escaped with the help of the Weathermen and was smuggled out of the country to Algiers, where he lived with Eldridge Cleaver.

Weingourt achieved the special effect he was after by making a three-quarter portrait of Leary and then using only half the negative. The left side of the print you see here is just the right side flipped. The crazy symmetry that results is the sort employed in a Rorschach test, which, by this point in his life, Leary probably couldn't have passed. It's an image of a man who has imploded.

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